Flames need to shoot better but Samuelson has long-term vision
SOMETIMES winning and losing in basketball is as simple as your shots falling or not and Brad Samuelson hopes to see the Rockingham Flames percentage begin to rise, but the first-year coach has a bigger picture in mind.
Samuelson is in his first year coaching the Flames after the tremendous job done by Mark Utley in recent seasons.
Now after six rounds of the 2017 season, the Flames might only hold a 2-5 record following three straight losses to the South West Slammers, Geraldton Buccaneers and Cockburn Cougars, but it's clear to see that Samuelson is building a program set up for long-term sustained success.
The loss of Cooper and Taylor Land was always going to leave a hole for the Flames and with Chudier Pal and Andrew Bowman among the others to have moved on from last year's playoff team, it's a tremendously young group that Samuelson has at his disposal.
Both imports Donovan Jack and Vinny Zollo are straight out of college as is point guard Beau Samuelson while Ryan Godfrey at 27 is looked at as the veteran of the group along with 31-year-old Jarryd Griffin.
The fact that the rest are at most in their mid-20s means that Samuelson is looking to build a Rockingham group that can have success for a long time to come, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t expect to be winning in the short-term as well.
Having built his credentials to get himself ready to take over the helm of an SBL program, Samuelson is enjoying everything that goes with it and hopes he will be given the time to build what he's attempting to with the Flames.
"It is a totally different level obviously and you need to adjust very quickly whilst coaching during the game. I think I've been groomed to take over this position very well so I don’t think there's any concerns over any lack of expertise," Samuelson said.
"I'm the same as our players, we grow and learn with each other as we go and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season and the challenges ahead. I just need to keep people happy so we can maintain our program in place for the forthcoming year.
"There's a lot of young players who I would still like to draw into the club if they aren’t getting opportunities elsewhere. We've only got a very small foundation at the moment and we do have a bit of a gap in the window.
"We have a couple of under-18 boys who can come through the system next year and then we have a large contingent of 45 young men running around in under-16 basketball. We are grooming them and trying to give them a pathway into the SBL system. We are in building mode most definitely and I'm sure the club does see that.
"This year is interesting for the club with a brand new board and a different approach. There's a lot of professionalism going on around the scenes at the moment which we are very happy about, and now we need to make that one heck of a picture on and off the court and combine it. We think we are on track to do that."
Looking at the start to the season and the Flames have beaten the Stirling Senators and Lakeside Lightning, but lost to the Perth Redbacks, Joondalup Wolves and then the last three to the Slammers, Buccs and Cougars.
If Samuelson could immediately fix one area it would be his team's three-point shooting. No player who has attempted more than one three this season is going at better than Justin Beard's 35.7 per cent.
That includes Beau Samuelson (22.2), Matt Honey (29.4) and Godfrey (30.6) being well down on what they are capable of.
Coach Samuelson hopes the law of averages turns around and their good looks begin to fall and also that the Flames can cut out some slumps during games that are hurting them.
"It's a testing time for us. We are averaging around about 25 per cent from the three-point arc and we know they are all good looks, and the boys out there usually would hit a good 40 per cent of those shots. But when you are collectively down around 25 per cent in each and every game so far it's causing big issues for us," he said.
"Last week's loss to the Slammers was very disappointing. We believe it was a game we probably should have had but again our shooting percentage let us down and we fell asleep for five minutes. Then on Sunday we fell asleep for a four-minute in the second quarter and allowed five threes to be shot on us which should never have occurred.
"When that happens you are chasing your tail for the rest of the game, but in general we are a brand new group. We have new systems and new ideas in place, and we are a very young team with two imports who are extremely young straight out of college. I suppose you can say it's growing pains at the moment."
The Land brothers have been outstanding imports for Rockingham and left a huge void to fill. While Samuelson hopes his son Beau along with Godfrey can help cover the loss of Taylor as point guard, replacing two-time MVP Cooper as a versatile big man is a whole other task.
Donovan Jack has arrived in Rockingham after his Penn State college career and has shown enough signs in the opening seven games to suggest he can be a quality big in the SBL.
He is averaging 20.0 points and 8.3 rebounds a game doing particularly well in the low block.
Samuelson is happy with what he's doing so far but has no doubt the Flames can also get more out of him.
"He is still working in the gym extremely hard at the moment which is a good sign for his future in basketball and is something he needs to do, but the professional level he needs to get to playing against veterans like Wundenberg will help him climb the ladder quite quickly," Samuelson said.
"At the moment we are all low post action on Donovan as well but we're trying to get in the high post too just to mix his game up a little bit. As a team collectively we haven’t been able to achieve that this weekend which was disappointing so we'll look into that and see if we can fix it up."
The Flames' second import Vinny Zollo is also fresh out of college at Cleveland State.
While the versatile 6'8 forward is still getting settled in the SBL, he is showing signs of what he's capable of including a breakout fourth quarter last Sunday against Geraldton and then 15 rebounds on ANZAC Day against Cockburn.
Samuelson is still looking for his team to work out how to get full value from him.
"We first looked at Vinny as more of a role player. He's a very long, aggressive type character and he's not one of those guys who will go out and win you the game type basketballers, Samuelson said.
"But our expectations are still quite high with Vinny and he's learning all the time. Once he gains a bit of a grip on the structured type of basketball, and read and react basketball that we look at he will be a far better implement in our team."
Another player out of college who Samuelson is more familiar with is his son Beau.
The point guard did well at Clarion University and after getting his SBL start with the Mandurah Magic, is running the Flames with his father as coach who is happy with what he's doing and has no doubt his shots will start to fall.
"Beau's gained a lot of experience over the years with representing Basketball WA and three years over in college, and the thing I find with a lot of people coming back from college is that it's hard to find your feet again after a stint in America," he said.
"I think he's gradually starting to find his feet again and he's doing a lot of good things for us, but his shooting percentage is letting him down which is frustrating for himself because he's usually a knockdown shooter in those areas. But he is organising our team and running our team extremely well with the help of Ryan Godfrey."
Samuelson also can't be happier with what Godfrey is providing to Rockingham aside from his shooting percentages, which he has no question will turn around before too long.
"Ryan's leadership is extremely important to us. Once again Ryan has gone through all the state systems, he's been to AIS camps and had four years over at college basketball where his last couple of years were extremely good and he's been an integral part of the team the last three years here under Mark Utley," Samuelson said.
"He has the captain's role this year and his leadership qualities so far have been excellent. Unfortunately we believe we are getting him the right looks but he's not quite seizing the opportunity and we can tend to start looking elsewhere and wonder where the problems are.
"But in general he's been absolutely great and he's just a very integral part of our team. Our two-guard front is just so important to us."
Photo by Belinda Pike (Croc Photography)